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Entrance to graduate programs

  1. May 3, 2012 #1
    I have been searching for the requirements for entry into physics graduate programs.

    I am seeing GRE + physics GRE + 3 LORs

    Is it understood that the student has a strong background in physics or mathematics or do they really not require it?

    I have signed up for higher mathematics courses for the coming semesters, but I am curious about how far I am required to go with physics courses to be considered.

    It is all up in the air as long as I learn the required material to do well on the GRE?

    Thank you guys

    I watched the TED talk with Sean Carrol so I know I want to be a physicist:tongue:
  2. jcsd
  3. May 3, 2012 #2


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    Your undergrad major and courses taken are certainly considered by the admissions committee. They are looking for candidates that will flourish and be productive in graduate school. A candidate who is unprepared for the graduate course curriculum or qualifying exams will have problems, so a strong undergraduate background in physics is necessary for most students.

    This is not to say, for example, that an exceptionally brilliant chemist or even liberal arts student wouldn't be admitted to a grad physics program. In fact, Edward Witten was a history student. It is just exceedingly rare.
  4. May 3, 2012 #3


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    You need to look at departmental web sites for specific requirements. Looking at the University of Michigan where I went to grad school many years ago, I see that they now require applicants to have at least 18 (semester-)hours of intermediate and advanced undergraduate physics courses. At most colleges/universities, this probably means six courses.

    http://www.lsa.umich.edu/physics/academics/graduateprogram/prospectivestudents [Broken]

    I'm surprised they don't say anything about the content of those courses. Nevertheless, I suspect they'd scrutinize you more carefully if you don't cover the basic core areas: classical mechanics (including Lagrangian mechanics), electromagnetism, thermodynamics / statistical mechanics, and quantum mechanics.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  5. May 3, 2012 #4
    I am in a strange spot.

    My undergraduate degree was in Business Information Systems (non-technical).

    I returned to the university 2 years ago to complete prerequisites for medical school. I am finishing in 2 weeks with A grades in all classes since returning. So, my physics exposure has been only 1 year of algebra physics that pre-professionals take. While looking for a further challenge, I took calculus I last summer. It was very tough for me at first, since it had been 8-9 years since any real mathematics. I had to scurry and learn the algebra tricks, trigonometry, and the calculus. I ended up with a high A, and rather enjoyed the course.

    Should I bother going to take the University Physics with calculus? I don't think so.

    Thanks for your replies!
  6. May 3, 2012 #5

    Vanadium 50

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    I don't understand your question. One post, you say that you are looking at physics grad schools and have signed up for higher math classes. Forty minutes later, you're looking at med school have have just finished calc. What is going on?
  7. May 3, 2012 #6
    I am not looking at physics graduate schools, as I am nowhere near that point. I am looking into the path I need to possibly persue a graduate degree. Ie. what is required for application? What must I do should I choose to persue this?

    I WAS looking to go to medical school. That is why I am at the uni in the first place, but am considering a change of path. I guess I forgot that part.
  8. May 3, 2012 #7


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    Er... what about looking at a major in physics? Or is that too obvious?

  9. May 3, 2012 #8
    Because I dont want be a post bach for another 3 years?
  10. May 3, 2012 #9
    Yes, it is required. It is understood that the student has the equivalent knowledge of a bachelor's degree in physics. This entails something like a one year introductory course in physics and advanced courses in modern physics, classical mechanics, electricity and magnetism, thermodynamics and statistical mechanics, as well as a course or two in quantum mechanics. Also, plenty of lab courses, perhaps a mathematical physics course, and usually some introductory chemistry.

    On the math end, you are usually expected to take at least Calculus I - III, linear algebra, and differential equations.

    There are plenty of physics GRE practice exams on the internet, so I'd recommend trying one out to see what is expected.

    To get letters of recommendation, you need to either take courses with the professors, or, better yet, do research under their advisement.
  11. May 3, 2012 #10
    A degree in Business Information Systems is not going to cut it for admission into a physics graduate program. Unless you're some sort of special case super genius, your best shot at getting into a physics graduate program is going to be doing the equivalent work of a physics bachelors degree.
  12. May 4, 2012 #11


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  13. May 4, 2012 #12
    Excuse me while I bang my head against my desk.

    ... *bang bang bang* ...

    I never understood this attitude. You said you wanted to be a physicst, so why are you trying to so hard to get away with following as few courses in physics as you can? The physics majors who want to get admitted to grad school have been following physics courses for *years*, yet you think you can get away with following a few courses in physics and math here and there? Maybe you're a genius, of course, but I think you need to do a serious reality check.

    Additionally, you might want to think about your underlying motivations for wanting to go to physics grad school. You've already got a degree, then you went back to university for med school, and now you want to go back to become a physicst after watching a TED talk.

    I apologize if this sounds harsh (it probably does); know that I've written it with the best intentions.
  14. May 4, 2012 #13
    Because taking classes for university credit costs me 1000 dollars per class and if it postpones my entry into a graduate program later than it could have been, then I would obviously rather avoid it. I'm not trying to avoid physics. I'm trying to avoid university credit for physics.

    That was a joke.

    If I wasn't the type to question my motivations, I would be studying for the MCAT and not asking these questions.
  15. May 4, 2012 #14
    I suppose a better way to ask my question is to say :

    Would it be "ok" if I were to forgo the electives and other classes required for a physics degree, and take the required mathematics and physics core?

    My uni requires:
    Cal I-III, and DiffEQ
    Physics I and II
    Analtical Mechanics
    Statistical Physics

    + 4 physics electives
    + philosophy of science
    + concentration in chem/eng/math - I would need Physical chemistry to complete the chem.

    To earn a proper degree, I would need 6 more classes over the core physics curriculum.

    Is the core "enough" for the GRE?

    Don't you guys often take advanced undergrad classes in the first year of graduate school in preparation for the competency exam anyway?
    Last edited: May 4, 2012
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